The Emergence of standardized, idealized, and placeless landscapes in midwestern main street postcards


Although Main Streets line small towns from Florida to Alaska, Main Street is more than just a street name; it is a place imbued with local pride, regional identity, and national virtues. This symbolic connection derives from the Midwestern Main Streets of the first half of the twentieth century, a time that coincides with the golden age of the picture postcard. This article explores how the connotative and denotative symbols from this golden age overlap. A sample of 140 postcards from small towns in Kansas and Nebraska with a viable Main Street from 1900 to 1945 was selected from books, personal collections, and Internet auction sites. Our discovery of a disconnect between picture postcard and reality was not surprising, but there was a shift from the significance of basic denotative signs and the particularities of individual Main Streets in the early part of the twentieth century to an increased importance of connotative signs unifying a homogeneous Main Street ideal. Three distinct eras of postcard manipulation emerged from the data: A slightly manipulated 1900-1911 era, a 1912-1930 era emphasizing a corridor of progress, and a 1931-1945 era that displayed a growing detachment from reality and moved from the unique characteristics of a particular town toward a homogenized and idealized "Main Street view". This article offers empirical evidence for the theoretical propositions of humanist and critical geographers that the representations of the American landscape are becoming increasingly homogenized, contrived, and placeless.


Geography, Geology, and Planning

Document Type





Main Street, Midwest, Placelessness, Postcards

Publication Date


Journal Title

Professional Geographer